To Keep the Channel Open

Let me tell you a lie. It was not always a lie. It was the truth a month, a week, a day ago. It was true until an hour ago when I received an email from Ed, a man who’s braved being in a critique group with me. He wrote to tell me he’d had another story published and said he was looking forward to restarting our critique sessions. (We break for summer.)

channelI replied, “I no longer write fiction for publication.” And then I told him I’d be happy to read for him, but I no longer had need of a critique group. He asked why I’d quit writing.

I gave him reasons; just like I’ve given reasons to two other writers I’ve discussed this with in the last month. I explained it in various ways, but a lack of confidence in my writing is what it boils down to. I’m a perfectionist—and usually not in a healthy way. And concerning my writing, no matter how hard I try to push my perfectionist striving down, it always rises back up to choke me.

Nothing I’ve ever written is perfect. I wanted it to be. But I failed. Failed. I tried my hardest. I did the best that I could and that wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t perfect. And there’s zero chance I’ll ever write anything better, which I know because … like … I have these mad prognostication skills. Right?

Perfect is how this author writes. Or this one. Or even her, and she’s self-published like me. Or him, and he’s not even published yet. And besides, I’m not writing anything life-changing, so who needs my lame writing anyway?

I gave up. Hung up my keyboard. Tried to pretend I had no idea who that silly wannabe writer Linda Cassidy Lewis was. She’s not me. I don’t write fiction.

Okay. Yeah. So this man, Ed, took me seriously when I told him I had quit writing. And he sent me this quote from dancer/choreographer Martha Graham (emphasis mine):

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

The funny thing is, I’ve been working on accepting my personal limitations. Forgiving my “failures.” Learning to see the strength in vulnerability. Linda the Human has been working to apply this new mindset. But Linda the Writer never thought to pay attention.

So, it’s a lie that I’m no longer writing for publication. The truth is, I have no choice but to keep that channel open. I may not tell a story many care to hear. I may not tell it as well as other writers could. But I will tell it because it’s mine. It’s what I have to give. I must embrace that “queer dissatisfaction.”

It’s a new month, now. Let us proceed …

signature5

Trudging Down That Dark Path of Despair

I said in my last post I needed to find some answers before I could move forward. At the time I wrote that post, I was in dialogue with a writer friend who is well-acquainted with the angst I expressed. A few hours after I published my post, she sent me a link to a brilliant one by Robin LaFevers on Writer Unboxed. Though I subscribe to that blog, I missed reading that post. Maybe it just wasn’t time yet.

darkpathThe title of that fantastic article is “The Seven Stages of Publishing Grief (or Hello Darkness, My Old Friend).” I felt as if it were written directly to me. Obviously it wasn’t  so there’s comfort in knowing that what I’ve been going through is common to all writers at some point in their career. As LaFevers writes:

So this seemed like a good time to talk about writers and disappointment. For while writing is one of the most rewarding pursuits in the world, publishing can be a long, slow, painful slog toward the pit of despair, and you can quickly find yourself in the soul sucking land of Major Disappointment. And guess what? This disappointment applies equally to pre-published, traditionally published, and indie published authors alike, so I guess that’s the upside: egalitarianism!

Yes, I’ve been “slogging toward the pit of despair” for a while now. But I’m overjoyed to know that’s normal—and survivable. I’ve read through those seven stages several times. I’ve been working through the Reflection stage, and now I’m about to move into Reconstruction. And I’m looking forward to Resurrection.  LaFevers says:

It’s essential that you don’t get stuck in one of the first four stages for the rest of your life. It is vitally important to your creative soul that you keep moving through them all the way to the Resurrection Stage, for without that, you’re simply stuck in a really ugly place for a very long time.

If you’re a publishing writer, or hope to be, do yourself a favor and go read that post. If you don’t need it now, save it because some day you’re going to find yourself trudging down that dark path.

signature4

A letter from my Muse

Listen up, Linda!

I’ve taken all I can take these last three weeks. Your emotional roller coaster is making me sick. Chill the heck out. You’re a writer. Writers write. And writers, if they’re smart, let trusted writers read their work and give them feedback. And if those writers are any help at all, they give you honest critique. Got it?

So they told you the book isn’t done. So they suggested more than a few little tweaks. Get over it. Stop this rush to worst case scenario. You are not a fake. You are not the worst writer in the world. You are not too stupid or too old to learn (though you just might be too stubborn). And you are not going to delete your blog, your Facebook page, and your Twitter account.

And, above all else, you are not going to throw this book out and start another one.

Get a grip. Quit your whining. Stop your bellyaching.  Walk out on the pity party and lock the door behind you.

GET TO WORK.

You have a good story, but we’re about to make it fantastic. Got it? Okay. Let’s go.

Signed, Your wise and patient Muse

Geez, the stuff a Muse has to put up with.

A River of Words

One thing I often wish for writers in my tweets and comments is that they will be blessed with a river of words. That’s how it feels to me when the mental dam breaks and sets the story free.

Unfortunately, I seem to be an expert dam builder, though I can’t say I know how I do that. I can never see a specific pattern leading up to these obstructions. Once I build that dam, I’m just as much in the dark on how to tear it down.

I want to write. I need to write. I cannot write.

That frustration only reinforces the dam, which leads to more frustration, which reinforces—well, you get the picture. I lay blame on this and that and the other. I distract myself. I pretend patience. I use force, trickling out a few words at a time. Eventually, I decide I have no talent and should give up.

For a while now, I’ve pretended—if I positively affirm that I’m a writer, that work on my WIP is going just swell, thank you, it will be so. Ahem. I only know that about ten days ago, I faced up to a dam of terrifying proportions. I felt like a total fraud. I was convinced I was a one-book writer. The voice in my head was screaming, “Shut up. Shut up! JUST. SHUT. UP.”

So I did. I shut up. I gave up. And that seemed entirely logical. Gloriously freeing. Long overdue. I decided to give away one more copy of Brevity, and then quietly slink away.

I planned another blog, where I could post my thoughts under a fictitious name. I would write about anything EXCEPT writing. It would be like a virtual witness relocation plan. Maybe a few people would find that blog and I could start a new online life. Eventually, if I were lucky, I would look back at my experience as a novelist with amusement.

Only, that’s not what happened.

What I thought were just my usual allergy problems turned out to be a virus, and this one settled in my chest, which for me, means a deep, wrenching cough. Naturally, this frequently interrupted my sleep. I spent a few nights in a sort of half-dream state, in which, every time I woke a bit more with a coughing spell, I “heard” people talking to me.

Sometime during the third night, I realized the talkers were the characters in the WIP I had so recently shelved. The next day, I realized they were still talking and I sat down at the keyboard. See that photo at the top of this post? Yeah, that’s what it feels like. I have so many words rushing at me now that I have to force them to stop, so I can take a break, eat a meal, go to sleep.

I’m in writer heaven. My river of words is a roaring, rushing, riotous joy I seriously doubted I would ever experience again.

For every writer reading this, I wish you a river of your own.

Photo credit:http://www.dreamstime.com/rushing-river-imagefree193893

The problem with reading how-to-write articles

It goes without saying that when you’re as good a writer as I am, you don’t need writing advice. OMG, I could hardly type that for laughing so hard! Seriously, like most of you, I still have a lot to learn about writing. And I’m always looking for that bit of golden advice that will make everything fall into place, giving me the ability to write nothing but astounding fiction thereafter. So, of course, I read my share of advice for writers, but I have to do it sparingly.

It goes without saying that when you’re as good a writer as I am, you don’t need writing advice. OMG, I could hardly type that for laughing so hard! Seriously, like most of you, I still have a lot to learn about writing. And I’m always looking for that bit of golden advice that will make everything fall into place, giving me the ability to write nothing but astounding fiction thereafter. So, of course, I read my share of advice for writers, but I have to do it sparingly.

In the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest an article by Steven James, titled “5 Story Mistakes Even Good Writers Make” caught my eye. He says, “Never let anything get between your story and your readers.” That’s solid advice and simple enough, right? Then he lists the five most common ways writers veer off-course.

  1. Overdoing symbolism/themes
  2. Trying too hard
  3. Failing to anticipate the readers’ response
  4. Using a hook as a gimmick
  5. Leaving readers hanging

Under each heading, he explains and gives examples of the mistake, and offers tips on how to avoid making it. I’m not going to quote too much for fear of copyright issues, so get a copy of the magazine if you can. I’ll talk a bit about one of his points.

Under #2, James writes, “There’s nothing less impressive than someone trying to be impressive. There’s nothing less funny than someone trying to be funny. Eloquence doesn’t impress anyone except for the person trying so hard to be eloquent. So look for places in your story where you were trying to be funny, clever or impressive, and change or remove them.” Remember, the heading is trying too hard, and here he’s talking about things like bolstering your dialogue with tags, such as adding “she joked” or “he mentioned in his fun-loving way” rather than making sure your dialogue is funny on it’s own.

Using excessive or inappropriate literary devices is another way writers try too hard. James says, “Believe it or not, you don’t want readers to admire your writing.” If you vehemently disagree with that statement, you probably write high-literary fiction where the construct is foremost. For the rest of us, he says, we want our readers “to be so engaged in the story itself that they don’t notice the way you use words to shape it.”

Anytime you stop your readers with confusion, causing them to reread a passage or an earlier section to figure out something, or even to analyze your beautiful writing, you’ve failed. “You want your writing to be an invisible curtain between your readers and your story.”

I agree with all that. I even think I know and practice all that, and yet … every time I read advice like this, doubt creeps in, and I want to recheck everything I’ve written—even if published—to look for places where I’m guilty of bad writing. Of course, I don’t actually check. Well, maybe just one or two pieces. Or five. Okay, so you can see that if I didn’t pace myself in reading such advice, I might never be able to write anything new.